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General: Button clicking /= immersion

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe CitadelPosts: 22,963MMORPG.COM Staff Epic

In her latest Player Perspectives column,'s Isabelle Parsley takes a look at what exactly immersion is in MMOs. Whether you are the type of player who simply logs in or the type who sees/hears/speaks nothing but the world of the game you're in, all crave some level of immersion. Check out Isabelle's thoughts about immersion in today's MMOs and then let us know your thoughts in the comments.

For me, game immersion is akin to reading a great book: for a few moments or a few hours I’m not merely running my eyes over clumps of words on a page – I’m there, and the story flows through my mind’s eye as pictures, not words. It’s not quite the same with games since they’re primarily visual to begin with, but the basic principle remains that for however long, what I’m doing has grabbed hold of me and is making me actively use my imagination. When it’s really good, there’s nothing quite like it and finishing the book (or logging out) leaves me with a happy/sad feeling that’s utterly unbeatable.

Read more of Isabelle Parsley's Player Perspectives: Button clicking /= immersion.



  • ShallakShallak Montreal, QCPosts: 8Member

    I have to agree there. And I too remember Asheron's Call, played it at released and then for years on. I did hope AC2 would be Asheron's Call 1 with better graphic (no need for improvement on the system which is my favorite one, along with SWG pre-NGE & CU)

  • KyleranKyleran Paradise City, FLPosts: 23,962Member Epic

    I'm with you, being a bit on the "older" side of the gaming world, I find the number of buttons that I need to manage to be almost overwhelming.

    Currently playing EQ2 and I've got at least 6 hot bars of 10 buttons each..and I'm only level 34 so I'm sure I'll need to toss on a bar or two more.

    True, I don't use all of them, (at least all of the time) so I probably should hide some, but still, I don't think I want 80 different skills to level up and use.

    Looking forward to GW2 where I hope there will be a return to a more minimalist UI approach which I'll surely appreciate.

    On hiatus from EVE Online since Dec 2016 - Screw off-grid PVE boosting changes

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    In my day MMORPG's were so hard we fought our way through dungeons in the snow, uphill both ways.

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  • JamkullJamkull somewhere, ILPosts: 214Member
    Agree that is one main reason I love guild wars. You only need 8 skills to be effective you can travel with friends or even talkative heroes at your side. The zones are instanced so you don't have to worry with others breaking the immersion factor. Plus there are very nice cinematics to help with immersion.
  • ErstokErstok LOL wut, NYPosts: 523Member

    If your getting to the point of hugging your monitor like in that picture. Maybe it's time to turn off the computer.

    When did you start playing "old school" MMO's. World Of Warcraft?

  • GrumpyMel2GrumpyMel2 Catskills, NYPosts: 1,832Member

    Nice article, Isabelle, and I definately feel much in the same boat. I'll also go on to add that button mashing /= skill or depth of strategy & tactics in combat.

    The MMO that I've played which I consider to have, by far, the most in depth & meaningfull combat and by far has required the most skill of me to play has been WWII Online.

    If you look at it's interface, it's far cleaner then most MMO's or FPS's for that matter....and there really aren't that many keys you need to press in order to play....yet the depth of it's gameplay is pretty amazing (IMO). So it's definately not the case that you need to clutter or complicate your UI in order to offer rich & complex gameplay.





  • TheLizardbonesTheLizardbones Arkham, VAPosts: 10,910Member Common

    I was just thinking about this today. In Portal 2, you don't have a UI at all and you have 2 skills, Blue Portal and Orange Portal. The immersion in Portal 2 easily exceeds my immersion in all MMORPG I've played.

    There's a middle ground somewhere between the current million skills to manage and having 1 skill to manage that would give you good immersion, and a good mmorpg play style.

    I supposed that's an 'agree' with the article.

    I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.

  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member Uncommon

    The most immersive MMO experience (storywise) I've ever had was the Inu story arc in UO where most of the immersion didn't even take place in the game itself - it was mostly on the message boards, participating in the collective brainstorming over the sparse dust of cryptic clues that something big was coming.  Yet all this discussion led to more roleplaying, more insight in the world and its lore than the actual gameplay itself.

    For actual gameplay immersion ... that's a moving target because it's so subjective.  The roar of an ettin in UO, the shaking ground of tree walking past in WoW ... as enjoyable as they are, they are also ephemeral.  After a couple of months playing though, I tend to filter out all that artistic effort and all I see is the math of the gameplay (until something changes that jars me into reexamining the screen).

  • HurricanePipHurricanePip Sommerille, MAPosts: 167Member

    Isabelle is now my favorite MMO blogger.  I love the grounded and logical approach she takes in her articles. 

    I haven't played GW, but the MMO that I always remember fondly is CoH.  It was complex enough to be interesting for an extended period of time, but still had a simplicity that made it easy to play without having 6 action bars and various other addons spread out around the screen.

    Also, as I've been reading the mmrpg articles recently, I began to realize that many of the theme park MMOs are basically becoming game lobby + instace games at the level cap and my question is ... are these games still MMOs at that point or do they just  become a dungeon crawler like Diablo?  Is instanced dungeon running or raiding really MMO content?  I would love to see an article on that topic.

    If you don't worry about it, it's not a problem.

  • KuaidamKuaidam San JosePosts: 183Member

    I'm a sucker for story. That's what I really need to feel part of any given game I play. Combat only needs to be fun and look great. I started playing MMOs around mid 2004 with FFXI and then moved mainly to WoW for the past 7, so I am used to the guizzillion buttons in hotbars. My fingers are quick to move around a keyboard/controller. I remember my friends wondering HOW THE HECK YOU DO THOSE COMBOS?!~ in Killer Instinc, and lets not forget MechWarrior 3 = 1 hand for the mouse and 1 hand using the whole freaking keyboard! be quick or be dead >= )

    But focusing on MMOs, SWTOR offers the perfect combo for me. A massive story telling where whatever I do is important. And a familiar combat system I am good at with a very elegant visual upgrade.

    So, I'm happy.


  • jinxxed0jinxxed0 Posts: 841Member Uncommon

    When I'm reading something some other dude wrote, I feel like im looking at a story. I get immersion from ignoring the story someone else wrote and making it up in my head as I play.


    If I want a "good story" I'll by a 12 dollar book, or check out a free one, not buy a 50 dollar videogame.

  • SwampRobSwampRob Halifax, NSPosts: 1,003Member Uncommon

    Interesting article.   I agree with the author, in the MMO I am currently playing I have 6 full skill bars, plus another for my hireling.  That's 70 possible things to click.    Even if this were the future with headbands allowing for mental control instead of by manual digits, I would still need the visual aid of those icons to help me keep track of what my character can do.   

    And I very much agree with the ridiculous limitations on storage capacity.   My character has thousands and thousands in gold but cannot afford a storage shed or two?   Talk about immersion killing.

    I'm not sure what the solution is.    I wonder if something like this couldn't work; instead of having dozens and dozens of abilities, the character has a much more limited selection; say 10 or less.    However, each of those abilities can be used/applied in a variety of ways.    I haven't completely thought this through but I liken it to a quarterback; he only has 10 other men to help him, but he can create an almost infinite number of plays and ways to use those ten.

    A fireball is a fireball and can only be cast in a straight line.   But if the fireball could be shaped, or have a curved trajectory, or delayed, or made to emanate from another direction, or be changed into a flammable liquid, etc.    Suddenly, you have a lot more options for that one power.

    Anyway, great points and I look forward to the future of gaming to see how some of these problems are to be resolved.

  • VyethVyeth Fayetteville, NCPosts: 1,459Member Uncommon

    To me, immersion is much less about the mechanics than about the actual environment. A game without day and night cycles breaks immersion for me.. A game with no weather system is less immersive.. Games are moving further and further away from immersion in favor of a more arcade "this is the story for now" type settings, when we should be playing in a WORLD...


  • divmaxdivmax JhbPosts: 106Member

    Its interesting that Isabella focuses mostly on the UI for immersion-breaking. For me the UI is not immersion-breaking at all in most default installation configurations. Its only when players are getting 'serious' about their raiding or grouping that they begin to customize their UIs into immersion-oblivion. 

    Having said that however, I'd say that for me, its far more immersion-breaking when things inside the game world don't make sense in the context of the setting and story they are trying to portray (or when 'game elements' are acknowledged by the denizens inside the game).

    I can look past a lot of UI problems, but I instantly get broken out of immersion, followed swiftly by that customary irritation, whenever an NPC wants to "buy/sell/trade" meaningless game tokens (meaningless to him/her), or when complexity/realism is needlessly removed. ('Realism' is a word that is often misinterpreted in discussions of this nature. In this context, I mean that the setting has 'internal consistency', not that its actually realistic.)

    Funnily enough, unlike Isabella, I find inventory management one of those complexities which are a factor FOR immersion. Its just more convincing to me when I have to make decisions about what to keep, where to put it and whether its truly better than what I have.

    And sometimes, I don't have the time and energy for that and I'll just dump it all in the vault for later or vendor it, depending on the mood. I've never regretted it vendoring it. Because really good equipment is normally blatantly obvious. Everything else is incremental.

    Unfortunately the common techniques used to reduce inventory clutter (loot over-simplification, token conversions, equipment uniformity/balance) are definitely immersion breaking for me. Although its acceptable to me to remove inventory entirely from a game without interfering with immersion because then my attention is not drawn to it at all. But if they are going to take the trouble to make an inventory system, it must be immersive to the degree that I'm storing items in it that actually should exist within the setting (in quantities that make sense).

    As another poster above mentioned, and I agree, I'm not sure that current MMO endgames are actually classifiable as MMORPG gameplay, nevermind immersive. The stupid waiting-room (town), menu-accessed-instance, loot-driven, two-step-carefully-timed-dance that is dungeon-group-content is not what attracted me to MMO's and it certainly hastens me moving onto the next game after I have finished all the more traditional RPG content. And its probably the most immersion-breaking meta-feature of them all. How many times have I killed that boss now? Oh hey, you have the same armour I have! What a coincidence.

    For me, story is the main reason to play RPG's of any kind and currently-popular raiding end-games feel like one is re-reading the final chapter over and over again in order to make the book last longer.

  • KenFisherKenFisher Northwest, INPosts: 5,035Member Uncommon

    I consider immersion to be suspension of disbelief, an event where it stops being me in front of a computer controlling a character, and changes to me being the character in the world environment.


    I too consider UI to be a significant immersion breaker.  The ideal is that I think it and the character does it, much like touch typing parallels speaking in conversation.  The more the UI interferes with play, the more significant the break.


    The inteface should be powerful, intuitive, and allow complexity without being needlessly complex itself.

    Ken Fisher - Semi retired old fart Network Administrator, now working in Network Security.  I don't Forum PVP.  If you feel I've attacked you, it was probably by accident.  When I don't understand, I ask.  Such is not intended as criticism.
  • AdamaiAdamai derbyPosts: 476Member Uncommon

    ok it would seem many people are having trouble with what mmos really are.. emersion goes right out the window as soon as the developers dictate story to you.. all of a sudden people think they have to stay within the confines of the games story and back ground and aptly name it lore!!!

    these lore mongers are the sole reason why emersion is well so damned hard to do in mmo's.

    here is a tip for how players can renew their love for what mmo's where meant to be and not what they have turned into by these sad development companies trying to hold our hands and tell us how to play and be emersed in games -

    first off. try and get a handle on role play. its not difficult but it does have its elitest trolls like pvp does. there is always the closet monster lurking in the background ready to leap out and tell you that you have things all wrong..

    well ignore these muppets.. rp is about you and what you want be seen as.. ofcourse rp also has to be kept realtively realistic within the guidelines of the games theme!! notice how i didnt say lore !!!  sure you might have rolled a tank and wear heavy armour and your race might be dwarf.. but does that really have to define who you are and what your here for!! no it does not.  hell you could be a dwarf raised by trolls kidnapped by elves tortured by humans and then saved by orcs and now a close relative to the sons cousins uncles brother inlaws friends of the patriarch of all things holy's servant!!  see how i used my imagination to develop a back ground story in a few short words.. 

    what im trying to say is dont let other people do the emersing for you.. get stuck in and emerse your self..

    do not rely on game story and compelling quest dialogues or story archs to make your entertainment in the game!! create your own.. find friends and role play your own little self with them. if any one is telling you that you cannot role play a dwarf who was raised by orcs in a dragons cave just politely tell them to shut up and put them on ignore.


    imersion isnt game content its players imagination.  sure the game does need to have some aspects that the players can utilises but im not talking about premade stories or quest chains or dramatic clamatic scenes where you have to tie your chars into it.. im talking about the kind of content where guilds are complex and crafting has a purpose. where you the player can be just a lowly trader rather than your every day run of the mill hero.. 

    has any one noticed that in all recent new mmos every one and i mean every one is a hero!!! what is that all about ???  thats like some one sticking wheels on you and pushing you down a hill with walls either side so you cant stray of in a diffrent direction leading to the end of the road..

    its really not good. and thats the reason emersion in todays mmo's is practically none existant.

    the best emersion ive ever experienced was playing in player created never winter knights mods. it was just fantastic.. the guys running the mods where the gm's and they created their own story's which allowed for players to intertwine their own stories into theres.. and  on some occasions you would find gm's useing player stories to create more emersion in the servers on a whole.. and this is what we are missing from mmo's

    mmos are not all about pvp like they are today.. if you ask me pvp as destroyed the most important part of mmo;s  pvp turned mmo's into a level grind and gear grind.  it wiped out emersion utterly. players no longer play mmo's for the experience of the fantasy world and being some one in it.. instead they play to pvp. or folow a pre made story for them..

    it requires no thought or effprt. and thats the problem. players have no need of one another in todays mmo's

  • PalebanePalebane Tucson, AZPosts: 3,225Member

    While I can certainly understand where you are coming  from, inventory space and thoughtful action (which button should I push and when, which skills should I have on my hotbar and where) actually help my immersion because they are realistic (inventory space) and they help me guage how much I am improving in a game (strategy). Inventory space and hotkey layout/skill selection are minigames in and of themselves, from my perspective. I prefer less obtrusive UI's and less skills, but have no problem learning and managing 30 hotkeys/combos if necessary.

    Vault-Tec analysts have concluded that the odds of worldwide nuclear armaggeddon this decade are 17,143,762... to 1.

  • futnatusfutnatus SomeplacePosts: 193Member

    We seriously need skill based games.  Single-player games have pulled it off.  Just imagine something like an FPS, but instead of a gun, you got a sword/stave/club + shield, or a bow or crossbow. 

    On your Left click is your weapon swing and on your right click is a spell or putting up your shield, loading the bow, anything.

    First/third person view could be something you can change between at the click of one button.

    We needs it D:  Too many button-smashing monstrosities!

  • redpinsredpins Clovis, CAPosts: 147Member

    I think there is a fine line between immersion and customization in current games. There shouldn't be a line. If you want true immersion, go outside. If you want immersion for games, then yes it can be better. Now, what they CAN do is make everything more player friendly, tied into the story and lore of the game (ui, combat, ect) and get rid of these junky bulky systems that don't flow well together. Immersion is sparking a person's imagination and driving their mind deeper into the game. It deals with meeting psychological needs, fueling them, and shaping them. We really want more of someone with big open arms, hugging and kissing us as we play, holding our hands as we skip through the game. That's what the WoW geeks feel when they play WoW. We want that feeling when we play games, but will we be open and submit to such? Depending on information from this site, I'd say no, and we aren't ready for that yet.

    I struggle not with life, money, emotions, and world, but against old mindsets and selves to be proven obsolete in a age and time of rapid changes. Go create fun, so you can have fun.

  • divmaxdivmax JhbPosts: 106Member


    You make some valid points, except for this:

    Speaking as a roleplayer myself, I think your excuse for throwing out the pre-made stories and ignoring the game/setting lore very weak. If you cannot make up stories within the context of the game lore, and you need to ignore the temperament of dwarves (as per your example) in order to make believable (in this case, highly quesitionable) backstories, then perhaps its your imagination that needs expanding.

    You commend to us the virtues of playing the average joe trader. But simultaneously you go to ridiculous ends to make a character which has an extraordinarily unique backstory. What exactly is wrong with roleplaying an average dwarf, the way dwarves are portrayed in the setting/lore?

    Though having said that, personally, if I wanted to roleplay, I would still rather tabletop roleplay. I didn't buy a PC game in order to ignore everything the developers have put into it, so that I can "make my own fun". Then I may as well....make my own fun....without spending the money on a PC game.

    Therefore, I expect them to create immersive worlds AND immersive stories within those worlds, in the same way that other entertainment media like movies and books achieve. I don't read a book only to put it down and start scribbling my own version of the story into the margins. Theres a place and a time for the type of creativity which you are talking about, and while I'm playing an MMORPG is not it.

    I think the best MMO's are those that have a main/epic story line but are also open-ended worlds, leaving you to pursue crafting and exploration and achievement hunting without having to engage in repetitive content.

  • divmaxdivmax JhbPosts: 106Member


    I do apologise. I just noticed I mispelled your name twice in my post above. :(

  • semajinsemajin Philadelphia, PAPosts: 47Member Uncommon

    It sounds like you are over-thinking your game(s), author. I've been guilty of doing this to many things in the past... over analyzing every detail for the one reason that something doesn't feel quite right. The truth is, it will never feel exactly right, being as its just a game and can't satisfy that deeper yearning for fulfillment.


  • Spin6699Spin6699 Vernon, BCPosts: 9Member

    What the college course doesn't cover, is gaming philosophy. I've been reading these articles and comments for a long time, and they really keep me tapped into what the gamers want.

  • gryphon93gryphon93 Fox Island, WAPosts: 68Member

    In all the MMOs I've played (and that's a lot), I haven't found one yet that I felt required more than one hotbar. Just because you have a million skills doesn't mean you have to use them all. Half of the skills in any game are just re-hashes of the other skills anyway. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

    If the multitude of options are ruining gameplay for a person, they have only themselves to blame. In that case, it clearly is a 'learn-to-play' situation.

  • xKingdomxxKingdomx SydneyPosts: 1,541Member Uncommon

    Developers nowadays seems to think quantity over quality.

    One thing I loved about GW1 is that you only have 8 buttons at all times. It isn't about how many buttons you can click, but when you are using them.


    Not mention a cleaner slicker interface.

    How much WoW could a WoWhater hate, if a WoWhater could hate WoW?
    As much WoW as a WoWhater would, if a WoWhater could hate WoW.

  • PhaserlightPhaserlight Boca Raton, FLPosts: 1,850Member Rare

    Scambug I'm confused, you write that becaue "our brains can't keep track of" all the information presented in the form of quests, it becomes a game of "follow the arrows."  I can certainly relate to this, however I find that it's only at times when I am becoming impatient or bored.  That is more of a case of Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair than anything else.  Then you turn around and argue that there should be more storyline quests involving a variety of activities, or rather one single storyline to follow that spans the breadth of gameplay a given mmo has to offer.  What are you arguing for?  Simpler quests or more complex?

    I am interested in this because I design missions for Vendetta Online, and I am interested in hearing feedback.  I tend to feel that while there should be certain "arrows" that help the player along the way, there should also be some benefit given to the player that carefully reads and gets into the story, lending the world a sense of life that it would not otherwise normally have.  In other words, I might tell you about the Big Mysterious Entity thats lurking out in the Far Away System and give you a few visible objectives to complete, but I might also include a few conversation options with the NPC you are talking to which could lead to some additional information about the Big Mysterious Entity's weaknesses.  So that player that plows ahead, min/maxing if you will, might actually miss a key bit of information that the player who takes a little care would pick up on, helping them to complete the quest.

    I also feel that choices should be granted to the player whenever possible, whether it's multiple ways to complete a mission or a quest, or a critical choice at a key moment which affects future storylines.  This also favors that player who reads carefully, as they have to know what they are getting into when making the choice.  As a mission developer this is an added incentive to build up the backstory a lot more and to try and draw the player in with interesting characters, situations, and objectives.  In essence a player who makes well informed choices should end up in a position of power (or not, if they choose to abscond the perogative) which brings up the interesting ideography of the self-actualized avatar.

    "To be what you are not, experience what you are not." -Saint John of the Cross
    Authored 131 missions in Vendetta Online
    Check it out on Steam

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